Category Archives: Scholarly events

Five days doing digital legal history

Screenshot of the startscreen for "DLH2021"

A few days after the online conference Digital Methods and Resources in Legal History (March 1-5, 2021), organized by Sigrid Amedick and Andreas Wagner for the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory in Frankfurt am Main, it is time to give here some first impressions of a most interesting and lively online event. It is a challenge to do justice to the papers and presentations, but perhaps one of the lessons of this conference is that good presentations dare to focus on a few crucial aspects. If anything came into view it is the sheer variety of subjects, resources and methods. Legal history is truly the discipline of legal histories in plural.

Doing digital legal history

At the start of the conference I had some worries about my stamina: How to deal with long hours behind your computer? During the video sessions a substantial number of some sixty scholars attending did not use the camera, some of them no doubt because their surroundings would distract attention, others because they had other duties to attend to as well. At a second online platform a digital meeting place had been created with three rooms which you could visit between sessions and afterwards. After a hesitant start with few visitors in a space with a desert color background more people decided to venture into this space. Between sessions I could twice pleasantly meet with just one other scholar, but this was exceptional! At other moments the moderators noticed people in this space many hours after sessions.

I will try to avoid plodding through all papers and poster sessions. You can still download the abstracts and the program. The eight posters are available as PDF’s at the congress page. With a total of ten papers, four short presentations and eight posters this was a distinctly small scholarly event, taking place during afternoons and early evenings within just two hours or two and a half hour each day. Unfortunately I could not attend all papers and sessions, but this helped me to keep this post concise. Those participants using the hashtag #dlh2021 at Twitter certainly needed to write short messages about this conference!

One way to look more actively at each paper and poster is to question whether a project tries to cover an entire dataset or a complete period, continent or country, or that it is typically a pilot dealing with for example a part of a text, one year from a longer period or a short period. In most cases at this conference the scope and range of a project is quite clear. Another fruitful question is asking yourself about the possibilities for extension and reuse for other purposes by other scholars.

Let’s keep this two-questions model in mind in the following paragraphs! The juxtaposition of subjects in this conference helps in fact to make a number of aspects more visible. Surely among the more all-encompassing projects were two American contributions. Kellen Funk (Columbia University) looked at the role and significance of legal treatises in Anglo-American law since the early nineteenth-century, dealing with some 25,000 treatises. As in his earlier project showing the impact of state codes of civil procedure upon each other in the nineteenth cnetury he developed this project with Lincoln Mullen. Despite its vast scale not every question about these treatises can be answered using this research tool, but it sheds a fascinating light on the relations between case law, legal codes and treatises.

Decades ago Rowan Dorin (Stanford University) wondered about the impact of a conciliar canon on local ecclesiastical law in the thirteenth century. His question proved eventually the spur for building with his team not only the Corpus Synodalium database, a repertory of synodal decrees in Europe between 1215 and 1400, but also a digital repository with texts, a number of them freshly edited from manuscripts. I discussed his project here in January 2020. A year ago Rowan Dorin warned me already for thinking every synodal statute and decree in late medieval Europe is now available in his database. In fact for large parts of Europe no statutes exist anymore. Dorin warned for putting too much effort in completeness for its own sake. He stressed the need to be clear about such lacks, omissions and silences in projects. Finally Dorin pleaded for choosing carefully formats using standards that will exist and be accessible long after the original tool or application and its versions have become obsolete. Coverage, representativeness and durabiiity are surely things to consider in due depth. For me this was surely one of the most important contributions.

Banner Community of the Realm Scotland

A nice case of showing the possibilities of a tool with only part of a text is the project The community of the realm in Scotland, 1249-1424 led by Alice Taylor (King’s College, London) for editing among other texts a portion of the legal treatise Regiam majestatem which survives in a fairly large number of late medieval manuscripts. The edition aims at faithfulness to individual textual witness instead of leading inexorably to a critical edition of “the” text, a thing clearly not existing. Words, sections and their order were altered at will. The project website contains only a part of the treatise. Dirk Heirbaut (Ghent) rightly remarked the dynamic model with this approach and tool would be helpful also in dealing for example with the various versions of the Libri Feudorum.

The twentieth century is no longer terra incognita for legal historians. In this respect it is useful to compare two talks. Cindarella Petz (Technische Universität, Munich) presented her work concerning cases tried before the two Landesgerichte in Vienna in 1935. She did not create herself the database with some 1,800 case records about persons charged with political crimes. Petz combined statistical analysis and network analysis in order to look at degrees of political bias in the two tribunals. Amazingly no one seemed yet to have done similar research in Austria, and it seems well worth expanding this pilot project to other years right up to the Anschluss in 1938 and afterwards.

Marlene Weck (Universität Freiburg) studied cases heard at the former International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague with a view to the terminology and views used by the court in its own case transcriptions to describe violent actions during the Balkan War of the nineties. In her view as a linguist it is interesting to look at the intersection of historiography in the introductions to cases on one side, and international law at the other side. It took her some time to find the right way to extract information from many thousand individual web pages with transcriptions which are not as neat as you would want them to be.

A second talk on a subject which figured here in 2020 was the subject of Franziska Quaas (Universität Hamburg) on the use of collections with early medieval collections with formulae for the project Formulae-Litterae-Chartae at Hamburg. The database with access to digital images and transcriptions of manuscripts with formulae, digitized editions of charters and letter collections, makes it possible to dispense with the nineteenth-century opinion medieval scribes used formulae as strict models for their work. The online workspace of the project makes comparisons between texts and textual witnesses much easier than it was for scholars such as De Rosière and Zeumer.

In his presentation Christoph Schöch (Universität Trier) talked about the project Lost in Beccaria, a project with a team of scholars looking at early translations of the famous treatise on criminal law Dei delitti et delle pene by Cesare Beccaria, first published in 1764. Translations of his work followed rather quickly. Currently only English, French and German translations up to 1800 are under scrutiny by the team. They aim at tracing the way translation differed from each other, sometimes even adding elements with or without clear marking of these additions. The team emphasized the need to establish a kind of basic vocabulary or even a legal taxonomy for comparing the translations. I could not help thinking that studying the way the very arguments and words within textual units would certainly be as interesting, but probably less open to a computerized approach.

There is a third subject which figured here already last year, but now it came into view side by side with a much older project for which a digital repertory has been created. In 2020 Annemiek Romein (Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, Amsterdam) could create with her team at the Royal Library in The Hague datasets for a substantial number of printed collections with Early Modern ordinances from the Dutch Republic in the project Entangled Histories. In the conference she was joined by Karl Härter of the MPILHLT at Frankfurt am Main, one of the scholars responsible for the Repertorium der Policeyordnungen der Frühen Neuzeit which led to a series of volumes dealing with territories and cities in the Holy Roman Empire, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden. Härter presented the new online version of this repertory. The German ordinances have been studied more often than those from the Dutch Republic. A repertory for the German collections was a must, creating it took over decades. The swiftly created datasets for the Dutch Republic in various formats simply show another possible phase in scientific research into the history of ordinances.

Header of the IURA portal

In presenting IURA: Źródła prawa dawnego / Sources from old laws, the multifaceted project for sources concerning the history of Polish law, Maciej Mikula (Cracow) showed the difficulties of his team in dealing with sources in Polish, German, Latin, Lithuanian and other languages for various themes from the Middle Ages up to the twentieth century. Creating a working search engine which can deal correctly with this variety of sources is as difficult as creating digital editions for these resources. The project aims at becoming a general resource for Polish history. IURA aims at becoming a part of the portal for Polish digital libraries, Federacja biblioteka cyfrowych (FDC).

Interestingly the theme of general use came very much into view in a very different talk by Stephen Robertson (Georg Mason University, Fairfax, VA) on his project on the history of the 1935 Harlem riot. He created Harlem in Disorder. A spatial history of race and violence in the Great Depression, a website in progress which gives both a spatial history of the first Afro-American riot against racism with interactive maps and timelines, and online access to legal records, archival records, newspapers and other digitized resources as a kind of citizens’archive. Spatial history could be expected from the creator of Digital Harlem. Everyday Life 1915-1930, but here he wants it to be a multi-layered public history project where everyone can directly consult historical sources. The legal records here are just a part of a larger whole. For Robertson public history is not just a matter of service to the public, but a necessary and vital way of restoring public faith in history and historians. Its focus on race and gender is of course most timely for the current debates about racism, police violence and the working of democracy.

Space and good wisdom forbid me to discuss here at length the eight poster sessions. Scholars presenting a poster had to held an elevator pitch, a brief and seducing talk of just one minute, to make people curious enough to select afterwards an online breakout room for further discussion. I would like to mention three posters. Fredrik Thomasson (Uppsala) and his presentation on Swedish colonial law in the Caribbean. During a century the Swedish kingdom had a colony at Saint-Barthelemy. Ilya Kotlyar (Ghent) presented a way to visualize medieval dialectical methods and concepts. Jörg Wettlaufer (Göttingen) talked about the digital platform Shame Studies.

Stacks with the Postiones registers

Apart from two scholars in the main program other scholars from the institute at Frankfurt am Main, too, presented some examples of their current digital research in four short talks. The longest of them was given by Benedetta Albani and her team about their project for one of the Roman congregations of the Catholic church, the Congregatio Sacri Concilii founded in 1564. The team created not only the first inventory for this archival collection held at the Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, but also digitized and indexed the Positiiones, Early Modern case registers, to mention just its two central assets. Manuela Bragagnolo, who incidentally acted also as a co-moderator during the conference, presented her project HyperAzpilcueta centred around the Manual de confesores of Martin de Azpilcueta and its development through successive editions and translations. For me it seems worth mentioning in particular as a counterpart to the project for the School of Salamanca (Academy of Sciences, Mainz and MPILHLT) where for each legal text from the Spnish empire just one version has been digitized. The website of the MPILHLT contains of course more information about these projects.

Building infrastructures and a scholarly community

The conference ended with a panel session in which four scholars individually tried to answer questions prepared by Andreas Wagner. This helped certainly to get a better focus on specific aspects, but alas the space for discussion was very limited. However, one could visit afterwards the dedicated virtual meeting room. I will mention here only few remarks. Benedetta Albani talked in particular about the importance of open access and the accessibiblity in general of digital projects. Michael Kaiser (Bonn) spoke about the way digital humanities can contribute to more classical research in legal history, a good thing because part of the German scientific community still has grave douts about its added value and shows reluctance to support digital humanities. Wim Peters, involved for example in the project for the Aberdeen Council Registers, noted especially digital legal history projects containing less than 10 million words are distinctively small when compared to projects for current legal resources.

The fourth panelist, Jo Guldi (Southern Methodist University, Dallas), held a passionate plea for building strong infrastructures for legal history research. She stresses the importance of exchanging experiences and inviting historians from adjacent fields, a thing that helps decidedly her own current research using parliamentary resources. Guldi pointed out how paradoxically the bibliographical work of Elinor Ostrom on forms of legal commons was part of the basis for receiving the Nobel Prize in economics in 1988. Few bibliographic projects have received such honour, few have had such far-reaching impact as the Common-Pool-Resources Database. Guldi urged scholars not just to write about the subject of your research, describing the pipeline from hypotheses to final results, but to include also information about the actual research conditions and restrictions, and in particular about the funding of projects.

Doing digital legal history is not just a matter of digital tools, methods and resources, but also fostered by creating its own infrastrcutures with elements such as a dedicated bibliiography, incidentally already started at Zotero by Andreas Wagner and a small team of contributors, regular meetings and other elements. One of the closing remarks at the conference was about the creation of a regular section for reviews of digital projects in the journal Rechtsgeschichte – Legal History. Creating a journal for digital legal history is another thing already contemplated by some scholars. The MPILHLT helps in creating an online contact platform, and things as organzing instruction weeks, seminars or webinars about aspects of digital humanities are definitely under consideration now.

In my view the first online international conference on digital legal history is certainly a success, showing a variety of results, sometimes as pilot projects, sometimes as large scale portals, sometimes as digital versions of earlier projects. The width of resources, periods and methods was large, even when for example Antiquity did not figure and only scholars from Europe and the United States attended it. The themes, too, concerned mainly Europe and America. The questions raised by participants are certainly as important as this showcase. Candidness about the limitations of online resources, open discussions about mistakes, pitfalls and dead ends is another valuable thing. The need to work from the beginning of a project onwards for its durability and survival in new forms leads to attention for common standards of interoperability, and for choosing the right online location and support to ensure results can remain online and preferably available in open access.

Jo Guldi’s strong plea for contacting scholars and specialists outside your own province and exchanging views regularly resounds with me, as do her words about building sound infrastructures. Guldi’s recent article on scholarly infrastructure as critical argument in the Digital Humanities Quarterly 14/3 (2020) should provide you with further stuff for thought and rethinking. Searching for her article I bumped into the portal Critical Infrastructure Studies, no doubt a source of inspiration for Guldi. It is one thing to be critical about The History Manifesto she co-authored in 2014 as I did here some years ago, but her plea for building digital history amounts to a most constructive and generous reply. As for digital infrastructure, my general overview of resources and methods, research structures and examples in digital humanities at my portal Rechtshistorie is my own contribution to digital legal history, as are my overviews of museums and legal history and other resource genres on my website.

The second thing resounding in my mind is the contribution (digital) legal history might be able to make within our society for the cause of public history and history in general, as advocated by Stephen Robertson. When law and justice are key elements in societies past and present, just as their counterparts injustice and inequity, legal history should by all means make its voices heard. If digital methods and resources can help to achieve this, we should not hesitate to make carefully and courageously use of them as open as possible. In fact the contrast between the immense role of subscribers-only resources in current law and the growing use of online resources in open access for legal history should become as clear as possible as a distinguishing characteristic of scientific research being in touch with society at large.

Questioning how to do legal history in a virtual world

Banner MPI Legal History and Legal Theory, 2021

This week I received a message from Andreas Wagner of the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory, Frankfurt am Main, about an online survey concerning our views on scholarly events in a virtual world. I had already planned to look at the website of this institute and to ponder the impact of its new name. The word European did no longer fit the actual width and coverage of the scholarly research at the institute. Legal theory has come to the institute as a third branch with its own director. Even the name of the institutional Twitter account has been changed (@mpilhlt)!

With Sigrid Amedick Andreas Wagner is the convenor of the online conference Digital Methods and Resources in Legal History (March 1-5, 2021), originally planned as a normal scholarly event in 2020. At this Max-Planck-Institute Wagner is involved with digital humanities and the project concerning the School of Salamanca.

Let’s not hesitate and give you here right below the message about the questionnaire. Hopefully the answers scholars give will help to establish best practices for online scholarly events and help fostering critical thought about the way digital humanities and online research have an impact on doing legal history.

The questionnaire

Dear colleagues,

After roughly one year of covid-19 pandemic, working from home office, online team meetings and many other online things have come to shape our academic lives. Even academic conferences nowadays are starting to be organized as virtual events rather than be postponed indefinitely. However, no clear picture of benefits and drawbacks of virtual conference formats has emerged, let alone a common knowledge about best practices and about the many different forms that such virtual events can take.

At the Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory, we thus had the idea to launch a survey in order to solicit the opinions of the legal historians’ community on these things. This survey is meant to establish a glimpse of the state of virtual events in our discipline: the expectations and demands of scholars, the traps to avoid, and maybe even some ideas worth probing.

We cordially invite legal historians of all shades to participate and fill out our questionnaire. It contains about 40 questions in 5 groups/pages (General Questions, Activity Formats, Socializing, Publishing, General Comment) and it should take you roughly 15 minutes to complete. We will be very thankful for every response.

The questionnaire will remain open throughout all of February, closing on Feb 28 at 23:59:59 UTC. Results will be published on our homepage ( and announced or reported on at various media like twitter, newsletters, blogs and journal sites. The survey adheres to very strict rules about data protection, which is one reason why we will not be able to send you a confirmation message or information about the results individually (the questionnaire is simply not asking for your e-mail address).

If you have any questions about the survey, please send a message to and we will be happy to answer.

Best regards,

Andreas Wagner

De rebus digitalibus: Doing digital legal history

Logo DH 2019 at UtrechtWhile the virtual world and the real world steadily become interwoven, it can sometimes seem legal history is only at the fringe of the digital turn. On the other hand all kinds of information and resources can be found online today. Using such resources does have an impact on the form and practices of legal history. Some scholarly events aim among other things at creating space for reflection and discussion about the tensions between older forms of doing history and alluring new ways and methods to pursue research goals. This year’s international congress of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO) will be held at Utrecht from July 9 to 12. In this post I will look at its program of DH2019, and also at the call for papers of a conference on digital legal history to be held at Frankfurt am Main on March 19-20, 2020, organized by the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte. It is only logical to compare the program and aims of DH2019 with the call for papers of DLH2020. Even if using the tools and methods of digital humanities may seem Latin to you, the importance of this digital approach will certainly grow, and knowing about them is useful.

Varieties and complexities

The main theme of next month’s conference in Utrecht is complexities. The way complex models are created to represent complex realities is to be addressed, as are the manifold questions about digital scholarship itself on a theoretical, social and cultural level. There is a variety of networks and mazes at work in the field of digital humanities. New generations of scholars arrive, with different perspectives and skills. If this sounds almost too much of a good thing for a four-day conference, you will see that some workshops start already on July 8. For the special focus of this conference, digital humanities in Africa, a workshop for African scholars, DH – the perspective of Africa, will be held from July 1 to 5 at the Lorenz Center of Leiden University. On July 8 there will be a workshop at the Royal Library in The Hague on Libraries as Research Partner in Digital Humanities. The venue of DH2019 is not a university building, a conference center or a large section of an hotel, but the TivoliVredenburg music center where hosting music from many periods and styles in five concert halls has become regular business.

The variety of subjects in the conference programme is truly impressive. Let’s look first of all for subjects in close connection with legal history. Renana Keydar and Yael Netzar will talk about finding out about the perception of threat by the Israelian police force. Georg Vogeler and two of his colleagues will discuss the ways to export charters into TEI P5 (Text Encoding Initiative). Marie Lavorel will talk about ways to preserve the oral histories of survivors of the genocide in Rwanda. The opening address of DH2019 will be held by Francis Nyamnjoh (University of Cape Town). He will make a case for being aware of the complexities, not only as a challenge, but as chances. In her closing keynote Johanna Drucker (UCLA) will speak about ecological sustainability and its impact on the ethics of digital humanities. The use of energy for computers leaves a large footprint on our planet. Tito Orlandi will give the Busa Lecture in which he will discuss the history of digital humanities and the apparent lack of a paradigm for this field. The lecture is named after Roberto Busa (1913-2011), the pioneer of using computers to deal with a textual corpus, the Corpus Thomisticum with the works of Thomas Aquinas. In 1980 his Index Thomisticus was completed.

The ADHO has a number of special interest groups (SIG) which nicely show the sheer width of digital humanities. Apart from libraries and DH currently SIG’s exist for literary stylistics, audiovisual data, global outlook, geospatial software and its uses, and for linked open data. Just looking at these subjects helps you to view digital humanities as a house with many rooms and space for more things to come.

My first impression of the program and the variation in themes and subject is that this conference deals with a number of territories that seem largely uncharted by legal historians. In particular subjects in world history can seem sometimes unconnected to legal history. In the second half of this post we will see how the MPIeR steps in to bridge such gaps.

Digital legal history

In some posts at my blog I have tried to look at the presence of digitized materials for doing legal history outside the Anglo-American and European sphere. Thus I looked for example in 2010 at South Africa and in 2014 at Brazil. In 2017 I discussed here digitized resources for the legal history of Suriname and last year more specifically the digitized slavery registers of Suriname. The death of Fidel Castro prompted me in 2016 to write about Cuban legal history. In yet another post I looked here at HISGIS and legal history. Digital projects are very often here discussed here.

However, digital humanities are not absent around more traditional themes and subjects. A nice combination of studying both the United Kingdom and Australia in the field of criminal law is found within the projects of the Digital Panopticon cluster, concisely presented here. The Exon Domesday, the manuscript with the Domesday register for South-West England held at Exeter Cathedral, is the subject of a project using a number of tools from the field of digital humanities.

Logo Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

It is perhaps wiser to look at the call for papers of DLH2020. The call starts with a summary of the various ways digitization and computers affect the field of legal history. Digital tools are used to gather information, they can assist in the exploration and analysis of information, and they help you to publish and connect research results. Databases offer access to legislation and to case law, in a number of cases for considerable historical periods, too. A second main point is the way digital humanities transcend the borders of disciplines. Apart from the problems inter- and transdiscplinarity pose themselves, adjusting existing digital tools, approaches and methods to meet such problems can have a major impact even when changes seem slight. Such unexpected turns can in the end also prove to be most helpful and literally path-breaking. However, the presence of digital humanities has not yet led to decisive changes in the ordinary practice of legal historians. The MPIeR dedicated in 2016 a part of issue 24 of the journal Rg/Rechtsgeschichte-Legal History to contributions discussing the role of digital humanities for legal history. The Law and History Review, too, published an issue on Digital Law and History [34/4 (2016)] with a focus on Anglo-American practice.

The purpose of the DLH 2020 conference will be first of all to get a more complete and balanced view of digital humanities and legal history, both on the theoretical level and in actual practice. The call of papers contains a fair number of possible questions for papers and posters: What do digital humanities bring that would not have been possible without them? How do they influence your approach and methods? Can we use methods of analysis common to DH also for legal history? What chances are there to use modelling to deal with questions concerning legal history? What about using Big Data or engaging in data-driven research? Which limits confront legal historians? Are there possibilities in DH we clearly can use to our benefit? An important question comes at the end of the call of papers: what resources are lacking until now? Proposals can be submitted before September 15, 2019 to

The set of questions reminds me very much of the question medievalists asked and ask about other disciplines. You might not be able to use approaches, tools and methods without some modification, but it is by all means interesting and important to know about them. I think that it is wise to be aware with Tito Orlandi that no clear paradigm for DH bhas yet been developed, and this means it is also possible to contribute to the construction of this paradigm or at least to building best practices from many perspectives. Digital humanities will touch almost every field of humanities. Scholars of Classical Antiquity have perhaps taken a lead in using elements of digital humanities, not only for their own benefit, but also for making their set of disciplines – discipline in the singular will not do here! – also accessible to a wider public. Entering the fields of digital humanities can hold its surprises, but it is no longer an uncharted world where angels fear to tread. The conferences in Utrecht and Frankfurt am Main can surely help you to get in contact with those people who have taken the plunge into the world of digital humanities.


Guidance to Early Modern legal procedure in the Dutch Republic

Cover "Procesgids Hof van Utrecht"Finding your way as a party or an advocate in trials in Early Modern Europe could be a daunting task. In our century some legal historians consider it important to offer some guidance to the way old courts worked. The Society for the History of Old Dutch Law has created a series called Procesgidsen with already nine volumes since 2000. This month appeared a guide written by J.M. Milo and E.G.D. van Dongen for the former provincial court of Utrecht [Procesgids Hof van Utrecht. Hoofdlijnen van het procederen in civiele zaken (Hilversum 2018; Procesgidsen, 10)]. A book presentation was held on June 8, 2018 in the inner city of Utrecht at the former building of this court, now one of the locations of Het Utrechts Archief. This post looks at the book presentation and of course at the new guide itself.

Ten guides

The former court of justice at Utrecht

Kaj van Vliet (Het Utrechts Archief) opened the session with a quick history of the historical premises of the old court. The Court of Utrecht was founded in 1530. At first its seat was close to the Habsburgian fortress Vredenburg (“Castle of Peace”). When the Dutch had freed themselves from the Spaniards, and after the demolition of the Vredenburg castle in 1579 the close association with the Spanish powers and authorities was no longer necessary or sensible. In 1580 the Reformation definitely took over in Utrecht. The court could move into the buildings of the former Benedictine St. Paul’s abbey. In the nineteenth century city architect Christiaan Kramm devised the facade still seen today. I show a part of the facade in the very banner of my blog. In the late twentieth century the rechtbank in Utrecht had to deal with a kind of diaspora with at least fifteen buildings. Some fifteen years ago a new building finally solved problems of space and coordination. I showed this building in my post on Lady Justice’s square.

Paul Brood (Nationaal Archief, The Hague), the editor of the guide series, invited us to imagine the fragmentation of the Dutch Republic which becomes very visible when you think of the different territories you will cross when travelling from the north, let’s say Groningen, to Holland. You had to face different jurisdictions, too. Brood underlined the way Marijke van de Vrugt wrote a draft for the Utrecht guide. At least two other guides are being prepared for the Society for the Study of Old Dutch law; these, too, will be published by Verloren. Emanuel van Dongen (Law School, Utrecht University) looked at one of the cases used in the guide to show the proceedings of the court. This case involved a charge of rape against lawyer and history professor Pieter Burman (1668-1741) in the early eighteenth century. The case kindled great interest among contemporary pamphleteers. Milo and Van Dongen had already discussed this case in their article ‘Echte mannen, woorden en daden. Eer en schuld voor het Hof van Utrecht in de achttiende eeuw’ [Real men, words and actions. Honour and guilt at the Court of Utrecht in the eighteenth century], Pro Memorie 19/2 (2017) 160-175. Kees van Schaik, a retired barrister who has mastered in three decades as few others the archival records of the Court of Utrecht (Het Utrechts Archief, finding aid (toegang) no. 239-1, Hof van Utrecht, 1530-1811), looked at a sixteenth-century case involving a lease of land by a farmer who had signed on purpose a very favorable contract which gave him space to escaping even these conditions.

Philip Langbroek, professor of justice administration and judicial organisation at Utrecht University, mused about the legitimation of Early Modern lawyers and their impact on law and justice. Did the overlap between the judicial elite and other elites damage the actual proceedings? This question is interesting, but Langbroek did not attempt to look at actual Early Modern cases, nor did he focus on the nomination of judges and lawyers admitted to the bar. J.O. Zuurmond, a judge at the current Rechtbank Midden-Nederland, put the proceedings of the second eighteenth-century case discussed in the guide – concerning an obligation to pay goods –  into the current way such cases are dealt with now by Dutch courts under new regulations – and computer systems – for civil procedure. The role of written documents will diminish radically. Finally, Michael Milo gave the first copy of the guide to E. Messer, vice-president of the Rechtbank Midden-Ned4erland

A new guide to the old Court of Utrecht

The volumes in the series Procesgidsen follow an established pattern of an introduction to the history of courts and the applicable laws, chapters about the jurisdiction, the judges and staff, the way proceedings in cases run according to the stilus curiae, the instructions and ordinances for court proceedings; a chapter or chapters showing one or more cases, sometimes also with an appeal procedure, and a guide to archival records and a concluding bibliography. The guides are mostly restricted to civil procedure. In this guide attention to archival records is shown by the effective use of images of procedural documents, but there is little guidance to the actual use of the records for the Early Modern court of Utrecht. However, all core elements of the series figure in this book, and the good use of photographs of legal documents is surely an asset, to be repeated in the upcoming volumes. Key passages of these documents have been translated which inter alia gives you an opening to Dutch palaeography in the way I lately discussed here.

Until recently researchers dealing with the former Court of Utrecht could benefit in particular from a book by Willem van der Muelen, Ordonnantie ende instructie op de stijl ende maniere van procederen, voor den hove van Utrecht, zoo in civile als crimineele zaken (…) (2 vol., Utrecht 1706-1707; online). He published a similar work for the city court, Costumen, usantien, policien ende styl van procederen der stadt, jurisdictie ende vryheid van Utrecht (…) (Utrecht 1709; online, Hathi Trust Digital Library). The phrase Costumen, usantien, policien ende stijl van procederen, to be translated as “Customary law, policy and procedural ordinance”, was used since the late sixteenth-century for similar works. The library of Het Utrechts Archief is home to a number of copies of these editions.

Sometimes a book or article can help you to overcome justifiable doubts about the feasibility of archival research into Early Modern courts. The series of books with essays on medieval ecclesiastical courts, edited by Charles Donahue Jr., did even more by inviting you to compare courts. The Dutch series Procesgidsen helps you to get quicker to the themes and subjects you want to study, and they help you to put these courts into perspective.

Telling tales: Chaucer and the law

Illuminated page wit the Summoner - Chaucer, Catnetrbury Tales - Ellesmere Chaucer

The Summoner, illustration in the Ellesmere Chaucer, early 15th century – San Marino, CA, Huntington Library, ms. EL 26 C 9, fol. 81r (detail), source:

Medieval literature sometimes touches law and justice, and thus it can be useful to look sometimes beyond the usual range of sources and materials legal historians prefer to study. The Biennial London Chaucer Conference will devote this year’s conference on June 30 and July 1, 2017 to Chaucer and the Law. At least three stories in the Canterbury Tales have lawyers or other persons associated with the law in their title, the sergeant-at-law in the tale of The Man of Law, the manciple and the summoner. Legal professions come into view in some of the other tales, too. The summoner had been attacked in The Friar’s Tale, to mention just one example. This post looks briefly at the upcoming conference, but I will not hesitate to add some personal remarks, too. A few months ago I came across a blog post by Candace Barrington, ‘Beyond the Anglophone Inner Circle of Chaucer Studies’ at In the Medieval Middle, and I could only agree with her about the importance of Chaucer to wider circles. The programme of the upcoming conference seems a major step in bringing him in a different context. Here I try to come closer to the field of literature than I do here usually.

The conference in London is organized at Senate House by the Institute of English Studies at the School for Advanced Studies, in cooperation with the New Chaucer Society and the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature. Senate House is home to the Senate House Library.

A web of tales

If you come more or less from the outside to Chaucer it can really seem you enter a kind of parallel universe. When you spot at the website of the New Chaucer Society the link to the Chaucer Bibliography Online (Mark Allen, University of Texas at San Antonio) the sheer mass of studies about a plethora of subjects is awe-inspiring. With only the search term law you will retrieve more than 400 results. Chaucer definitely is treated as a part of world literature, but Barrington makes it clear it that only lately studying Chaucer has become a worldwide activity which can break though the lines of approach practised in the Anglophone world. Barrington is one of the founders of Global Chaucers, created as the “Online archive and community for post-1945, non-Anglophone Chauceriana”. The resources page of this blog shows you the wide impact of Chaucer and leads you also to a list of modern translations.

Visualizing Chaucer, Robbins Library, University Of Rochester, NY

The social media, too, have a role in creating a wider circle of people delving into Chaucer’s work. Many years ago the House of Fame, a blog maintained by a modern incarnation of Chaucer, was launched. Meanwhile this modern Chaucer has become a master of funny Middle English tweets by Le VostreGC. For Chaucer and the Law there is the Twitter account Chaucer_Law. I will not give a here a complete guide to Chaucer studies, but some websites can help you very much. Among the short introductions to Chaucer the online exhibit The World of Chaucer. Medieval Books and Manuscripts (Special Collections, Glasgow University Library) is helpful. The University of Sheffield has created a portal for critical editions of the Canterbury Tales where you can easily compare some of the main manuscripts containing this work, including the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts. eChaucer: Chaucer in the Twenty-First Century (University of Maine at Machias) is a portal with both the original texts and translations, and a concise web guide. Candace Barrington contributes also to an open access companion to the Canterbury Tales. Siân Echard (University of British Columbia) provides a great service with his web pages on Chaucer: Manuscripts and Books on the Web, but for the image of the Ellesmere manuscript shown here I preferred to visit the website of the Huntington Library. Visualizing Chaucer (University of Rochester, NY) is your online port of call for more images of and around Chaucer. If you hesitate about the importance of images you might want to look at The Robin Hood Project of the Robbins Library of the University of Rochester.

The programme of the two-day conference in London shows a wide variety of sessions. With a sigh of relief I saw the first section is dedicated to A Preface for Chaucerians: Chaucer for Historians, a promise that Chaucer will not be only the subject of literary views. Anthony Musson will discuss the sergeant-at-law, the teller of the Man of Law’s Tale, and Nigel Ramsay will speak about the manciple and his tale. A quick view of the programme shows also that the Canterbury Tales are not the exclusive source linking all contributions. Chaucer’s other works figure here as well. It is about time to confess I, too, look at Chaucer from a foreign perspective. My knowledge of English legal history, too, is refreshed and even extended here, and anyway it is simply necessary to tell something more about the three main figures associated with the law in the Canterbury Tales. The sergeants-at-law were for centuries barristers with the exclusive right to argue cases in the Court of Common Pleas. A manciple was a purveyor of goods for a court or college, sometimes a caterer of food. The summoner was an official in ecclesiastical courts who delivered charges to people compelling them to appear in court. Peter Guy Brown will discuss this official in his paper.

Let’s not forget to look briefly at Chaucer himself. Geoffrey Chaucer (around 1343-1400) was a public servant with functions such as a valet de chambre to king Edward III, customs official for the port of London and deputy forester in Somerset. He acted as a royal envoy in France and Italy. In 1386 he became a Member of Parliament. As a poet-diplomat he must have met all kinds of people, and these meetings are in a way mirrored in the figures portrayed in the Canterbury Tales and in his other works. He is a master at playing with reputations and stereotypes.

Of course it will not do to plod here through all papers of the upcoming conference in London, you will find here a personal choice. Some papers refer to other kinds of law as well. Samantha Katz Seal will look at laws of lineage in Chaucer’s work. Julie Chamberlin will discuss legal networks in The Franklin’s Tale. Chaucer’s Complaint unto Pity is the subject of Jonathan Forbes’ paper in which the complaint will be compared to a legal plea. Claire Fennell will discuss a Middle English statute book in the manuscript Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson MS B 520. The first day ends with a plenary lecture by Emily Steiner on medieval literature and the limits of law.

The second day will start with a contribution from Groningen. Sebastian Sobecki will give a plenary lecture about Chaucer’s lawyers. Sobecki prepares with Barrington The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Law and Literature. Recently he published Unwritten Verities. The Making of England’s Vernacular Legal Culture, 1463–1549 (Notre Dame, IN, 2015). Arvind Thomas will speak about literature and legal maxims. Euan C. Roger will look at Chaucer’s career in royal service by looking at the plea rolls. Among other themes to be addressed are sumptuary laws, the role of conscience, freedom of speech, treason and mercy.

Part of the attraction of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is his skill in picturing people by their conscious or unconscious use of particular language. In many tales he succeeds in disguising the origin of a story. The fragmentary tradition and the signs alluding to a possibly different ordering and sequence of the tales provide space to use widely different perspectives to gain insights. Every tale in the Canterbury Tales forms a kind of microcosmos with a multitude of aspects, and on the other hand they are part of a network of tales. Being aware of the very variety of medieval life, culture and society is not a bad thing when studying medieval law and justice, and Chaucer offers a focus for looking at the fourteenth century.

A new start in medieval canon law

Pope Boniface VIII knew exactly how important the choice of the right opening words was, especially for such publications as his decrees, encyclical letters and decretals. His decretal Rem non novam (Extrav. comm. 2.3.1) issued in 1303 gives its name to an event signalling a development that is partially new and partially a continuation, the restart at New Haven of the Stephan-Kuttner-Institute of Medieval Canon Law. An inaugural conference which takes its name from Boniface VIII’s decretal will be held on May 21 and 22, 2015. New Haven was home to the institute from 1964 to 1970 when Stephan Kuttner, its founder, hold a chair at Yale University. His institute has figured already several times at my blog. It seems right to bring in this post also to your attention the call for papers for the Fifteenth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, to be held in Paris in July 2016. Both events are mentioned in the congress calendar of my blog, but in my view they merit more attention.

A new start

Banner rem non novam conference at New Haven

Stephan Kuttner (1907-1996) founded the Institute of Medieval Canon Law in 1955 at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In 1964 Kuttner moved to New Haven, and in 1970 he brought the institute to Berkeley, CA. In 1991 the institute moved officially to Germany. In 1996 the library arrived at the university of Munich. I was involved in the restart of the IMCL at Munich, in particular for creating a catalogue of the books in Kuttner’s library, a task done with the gracious support of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Elsewhere on this blog I wrote more about the creation and wanderings of the IMCL. In a way Its travels symbolise the crossing of borders necessary in studying the history of medieval canon law. Stephan Kuttner had to cross the borders of many countries, not only for his research but also to find a home for himself and his family. The IMCL is supported by an institution with a long Latin name, the Iuris Canonici Medii Aevi Consociatio (ICMAC) or International Society of Medieval Canon Law.

In 2013 the IMCL returned to the United States, back to New Haven, Connecticut. Yale University offers again hospitality to this institute, now at the Lillian Goldman Law Library. Apart from books the library of the IMCL contains several collections, especially some 8,000 offprints of scholarly articles, several hundred microfilms both from the original holdings of the IMCL and from scholars such as Gérard Fransen and Rudolf Weigand, and Kuttner’s vast scholarly correspondence. At the Yale Law Library efforts have started to make all these riches better accessible. At the Munich website you can access – in English or German – the library catalogue, the offprints catalogue and the database for twelfth-century decretals based on the research done by Walter Holtzmann and other scholars. To the items in the library and offprints catalogues classifications will be added. The program for the critical edition of texts in the field of medieval canon law will be continued. The Bulletin of Medieval Canon Law, since 1971 an independent offsping of Traditio, is now published by the Catholic University of America Press.

To celebrate the return of the IMCL to Yale University and to underline its importance a conference and grand opening will be held on May 21 and 22, 2015, with scholars coming from all over the world. Rem non novam nec insolitam aggredimur, “we tackle a thing that is not new or unusual”, but in fact harbouring the IMCL is special indeed. At its consecutive homes it always added a number of unparalleled collections to its scholarly surroundings. An example: at Munich I catalogued in 1997-1998 for the IMCL ten publications concerning the Spanish scholar Antonio Agustín. I was hard pressed to find any library worldwide with at least half of these publications. The great variety of resources now present at New Haven are already reflected in the abstracts of the papers to be presented at the May conference.

Reuniting scholars every four year

Banner ICMCL Paris 2016

With Gérard Fransen (Université Catholique de Louvain) and other scholars Stephan Kuttner organized a conference about medieval canon law in Brussels in 1958. A second conference held in Boston followed in 1963, and a third in Strasbourg followed in 1968. Since 1968 these congresses are held every fourth year, alternately organized east and west of the Atlantic Ocean. The Fifteenth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law will be held at Paris from July 17 to 23, 2016. The Institut d’Histoire du Droit of the Université Paris-II (Panthéon-Assas) will be the host of this congress, with support from the Université Paris-Sud and other well-known research institutes in Paris.

Over the years a division of the congress into six sections has been developed. For many years research concerning Gratian occupied a separate section or at the very least dominated the section on sources and texts. However, in view of the steady progress of the edition of the first version of Gratian’s canonical collection this theme will surely return. Proposals for papers can be sent to before September 30, 2015.

It might seem carrying coals to Newcastle, but it might be actually important to look a bit closer to the proposed sections for the 2016 congress at its bilingual website. Sources and texts fall into the first section, and canonical doctrine into a section of its own, fair enough. The third section is reserved for institutions, legislation and procedure. The application and influence of canon law make up the fourth section. Relationships between law and theology are the subject of the fifth section, and the last section will deal with schools and teaching of law.

In my view this division shows very convincingly that medieval canon law was not something static and monolithic, even when dealing with eternal values and returning problems for a still united Christendom. Canon law had to react when new laws appeared that might be in conflict with the norms and values it enshrined. Legal matters did touch upon Christian beliefs and vice versa. In the twelfth century it was still difficult to distinguish at all between canon law and theology, and it would be shortsighted to tear them apart too early. Canonical influences can clearly be detected in the procedures of courts, even in courts of civil law. In medieval universities schools rose which defended particular positions about points of law, and of course views changed or gained the upper hand or lost their power. Canon law depended to a certain extent on revived Roman law, but it could as well change the impact of Roman law.

Continuity and change

The original decretal of Boniface VIII deals with a matter that should attract closer attention in the year with celebrations for 800 years Magna Carta. The decretal’s first sentence was “Rem non novam aggredimur, neque viam insolitam ambulamus”, words slightly changed by the organizing committee in New Haven. While borrowing from the preface to Cod. 3.1.14, this pope did change canon law. His decretal was a stepping stone in anchoring norms for valid legal procedure, ensuring that defendants had the right to be brought before a court. The clause of Magna Carta claiming the right to appear before a judge of one’s equals had not yet taken this step forward of granting anyone the right to receive justice in a well-ordered way. Due process is a characteristic of legal procedure shaped to considerable extent by developments in medieval canon law.

Scholars studying medieval canon law have not confined themselves to reading and analyzing only legal texts. Randy Johannesen wrote about the contemporary surroundings and consequences of the decretal Rem novam [‘Cardinal Jean Lemoine’s gloss to Rem non novam and the reinstatement of the Colonna cardinals’, in: Proceedings of the eighth international congress of medieval canon law, Stanley Chodorow (ed.) (Città del Vaticano 1992) 309-320]. Tilmann Schmidt published Der Bonifaz-Prozess : Verfahren der Papstanklage in der Zeit Bonifaz’ VIII. und Clemens’ V (Cologne, etc., 1989) about the steps taken against Boniface VIII himself. These are just two examples, but much more can be added to them, as a search within for example the online bibliography of the Regesta Imperii at Mainz can quickly confirm. Looked at in vitro medieval canon law looses its significance for legal history at large, but time and again it is possible to show its many and surprising connections not only with all layers of medieval society, but also with legal developments right until our century.

A temple of peace: 100 years Peace Palace in The Hague

The Peace Palace in The Hague - image Tha Hague Academic Coalition,

The Peace Palace in The Hague – image The Hague Academic Coalition,

In several posts on this blog you can find information from or about the Peace Palace Library. The Peace Palace in The Hague opened its doors on August 28, 1913, yet another anniversary calling this year for attention. Its role and place in the history of international law are surely interesting. On a special website you can find more on the activities around this centenary. One of these activities is a congress on The Art of Peace Making where the tercentenary of the Peace of Utrecht (1713), too, will be commemorated, a theme that figured here earlier this year.

The Peace Palace is home to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), since 1945 the highest judicial organ of the United Nations. On its website the second name, Cour Internationale de Justice, reminds you of the fact that French was and still is an important language in international affairs. You can consult the website of the Peace Palace in Dutch, English or French. The Permanent Court of Arbitration, too, was founded in 1899 with a French name, Cour Permanente d’Arbitrage. Since 1923 the The Hague Academy for International Law has its premises also at the Peace Palace.

At the blog of the Peace Palace Library R. Steenhard wrote in April a fine post on the founding of the Peace Palace. In The Hague two peace conferences had been held in 1899 and 1907. Among the most substantial results in 1907 were the Laws and Customs of War on Land. At Yale’s Avalon portal you can quickly find other laws of war, where the two Hague Conventions hold a substantial place. The contacts of lawyers with Andrew Carnegie proved in the end invaluable to get this philanthropic millionaire to donate a very substantial sum for the new building from his Carnegie Foundation. Among the special collections of the Peace Palace Library is a major collection on the peace movement between 1900 and 1940. Many items in it have been digitized, but they have no yet been published online as a digital collection. The variety of subjects on which the Peace Palace Library collects books is reflected in a great series of some fifty (!) nutshell research guides. They guide you not only to the courts at the Peace Palace, but to international law in a very wide sense, including guides on legal history, comparative law, Islamic law, international watercourses, and for example the League of Nations. The collection of works on and by Hugo Grotius at the Peace Palace Library has often been noted here.

The building itself of the Peace Palace is a marvel. Its architecture is remarkable for the combination of influences from many countries and periods. In my opinion the tower and the main building remind you foremost of a large European medieval town hall. The tower looks like the belfry of a Dutch or Flemish town hall. Inside the building you will find elements from all over the world. Many countries contributed gifts to enhance the building. Margriet van Eikema Hommes studied the four large-scale paintings by Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680) in Art and Allegiance in the Dutch Golden Age. The Ambitions of a Wealthy Widow in a Painted Chamber by Ferdinand Bol (Amsterdam 2012).

No doubt the presence of the Peace Palace helped the city of The Hague to become a capital of international law. At the The Hague Justice Portal you can find the courts at the Peace Palace, the International Criminal Court and other UN special courts. The website of the The Hague Academic Coalition guides you to academic institutions in the field of international law in the city which is the residence of the Dutch king. The links section helps you to find quickly the most important international courts in The Hague. By the way, the Hoge Raad der Nederlanden, the modern Dutch Supreme Court, is also at home in The Hague.

Today I read by chance on Iurisdictio-Lex Malacitana, the blog of José Calvo González (Malaga), a notice about the yearly international itinerant seminar on the architecture of justice organized by the Institut des Hautes Études sur la Justice in Paris. This year’s seminar focuses on courts in two cities, Montreal and New York. The international courts in The Hague and their very different buildings would be an excellent subject for another edition of this program.